Dean Starkman, editor of Columbia Journalism Review’s “The Audit,” sets forth a rather succinct and important analysis of what a paywall can achieve.
“The hamster wheel vs. the quality imperative” raises plenty of interesting points about the various directions in which a news organization can pursue its transition into the digital age. Starkman uses recent news from the Journal Register Company as a backdrop for this approach, while comparing/contrasting that angle against The New York Times and Advance Digital’s efforts.
In discussing Advance’s recent cuts across its newspaper holdings, Starkman reiterates that there’s more than one way to trudge ever onward:
If this free model were the only one available, that would be one thing. But since it isn’t, and since it, as Advance tell us, requires dramatic cuts, and requires them immediately, AND since the model is based on click and post volume, the free model should be opposed.
Starkman doesn’t come right out and endorse any particular paywall structure. But he points out that a digital subscription may serve as a “mini-referendum on quality.” And that’s an important – and much-needed – concept.
It’s a death knell for organizations when they pursue high-volume, low-quality numbers, numbers, numbers. More page views! In the end, that approach compounds and the result is a Facebookized “news” feed that doesn’t really do anyone any good. (And, hey, it’s free, so why would readers care anyway?)
(Disclosure: I work for Sun Newspapers, owned by Advance Publications.)